How to Prepare Your Colleagues for Your Time Off
Work + Life Balance

How to Prepare Your Colleagues for Your Time Off

by Jennifer Joseph
Photos Tonhya Kae | June 17, 2015

WHETHER YOU'LL BE GONE FOR A FEW DAYS OR A FEW MONTHS, IT'S IMPORTANT TO PREPARE YOUR COLLEAGUES FOR YOUR ABSENCE.

There are a range of reasons for time out of the office—from a Friday off to extend your weekend, a week-long vacation, or a five-month maternity leave. (And if you’re not currently maximizing your vacation time, check this out for why you should be.)

As much as we would all love to think that our office will crumble without us, it’s just not true and time away is key to recharging and working smarter when you’re in the office. That said, many people in your office (including your boss!) may have no idea what you do all day. A successful period of time off hinges on preparing your office for your leave. {Click to Tweet}

Related: Best Places to Take Your Grown-Up Spring Break

Here’s how to do just that:

ASSIGN RESPONSIBILITY

Work with your boss to determine if it makes sense to have one person cover for you or if your responsibilities need to be split among a few members of the team.

Don’t assume that your boss will handle it for you. It’s your responsibility to make sure your work is covered in your absence.

If you’ll only be out of the office for a day, your boss might agree that nothing needs to be handled until you return, but a longer absence might necessitate someone filling in.

SET YOUR COLLEAGUES UP FOR SUCCESS

Think about your typical day. It probably consists of a mix of regular tasks and things specific to your current projects. Walk through your day in your head and make a “While I’m Out” document with all pertinent information for your colleagues. Have a section for each day and a list of things that need to be done, how to do them, and where to find relevant information they may need.

As an example, I used to prepare a daily briefing book for my boss. If I went out of town, my “While I’m Out” document always had a list of what needed to be in the book each day. While things would inevitably be scheduled or changed after I left, it gave my team a place to start from and ensure our boss had the format and materials she was used to.

Remember, more information is better than less. {Click to Tweet} Your colleagues may never use it, but if something arises, they will be grateful that you’ve thought ahead. 

Remember, more information is better than less. Your colleagues may never use it, but if something arises, they will be grateful that you’ve thought ahead.

I once covered for a colleague who was out of town and thought that I was filled in on everything. And then, of course, a question came up about something she was responsible for that she hadn’t included in her notes because she didn’t think it would come up while she was out. My team and I spent a few hours scrambling, trying to locate a relevant document, calling and emailing her, and ultimately duplicating the document. It was stressful on everyone, including her when she realized how many messages she had.

Make sure you walk through the “While I’m Out” document with whomever is handling your responsibilities while you’re gone. Make yourself available to answer questions or clarify points. If your boss finds it helpful, make sure to give him or her a copy too.

BE CLEAR ON CONTACT

This really depends on the office. Many offices require their employees to be plugged in and working even on vacation.

While I could talk for days about the importance of taking a fully unplugged vacation, I know that it’s not always possible. If, when, and how you’re contacted is left up to you, so be clear on what the policy is.

If, when, and how you’re contacted is left up to you, so be clear on what the policy is.

Will you be taking your work phone and computer with you? Will you be answering emails? Should they only call you if there’s an absolute emergency? Will you not be available at all? (Of course, they should never need to contact you, because you’ve prepped them for everything they need to know in your “While I’m Out” document before you left).

SET UP YOUR OUT-OF-OFFICE MESSAGES

There are few things more frustrating at work than sending an email to a coworker for something you need quickly and never getting a response, only to find out a day later that they were actually out of the office.

Make sure to set up the out-of-office responder on your email from the time you leave the office to the morning you get back. It doesn’t hurt to set it up to turn off manually so if you’re delayed for some reason, it still goes out. (If you do this, put a reminder on your calendar to disable it when you’re back. It looks very unprofessional to get someone’s out-of-office from their vacation that was a month prior.)

Your out-of-office responder should tell people the dates you’re out, if you’re reachable, or if you’re not checking email, and who they can contact in your absence, if anyone. Do the same for the outgoing message on your voicemail.

Related: How I Took a Month Off to Travel 

PREPARING FOR EXTENDED LEAVE 

The points above apply to extended leave, such as maternity or disability leave, too.

Prior to my own maternity leave, the colleague who handled my responsibilities in my absence shadowed me for a week to learn what I did and how to handle those responsibilities. We set the week up so that, by the end of the week, she was handling all of my responsibilities and I was just checking to make sure everything was done properly.

Ultimately, no one contacted me for the five months I was out for anything work-related because they were fully prepared to handle my job.

With a little advance preparation, your team will be set up to handle your responsibilities in your absence, eliminating the stress that can form with people out of the office. And you’ll be set up to actually enjoy your time off, uninterrupted.